How to calculate catering food quantities

buffet image by Yvonne Bogdanski from

The fear of running out of food or having lots of leftovers can add stress to a catered event. Whether an afternoon tea, sit-down dinner or buffet, there are guidelines for caterers and party planners to follow to ensure they end up with the right quantities of food.

An accurate estimate not only helps the party run smoothly, it also keeps the budget in check.

Find out the number of people who will be attending the event. The party host should have a good idea of how many people will be present. An accurate RSVP list is essential to calculating food amounts.

Consider the time of day and length of the event. The amount of food served will depend on when the event happens and how long it is. For example, an evening cocktail party with appetizers only will require less food than a breakfast or full dinner. Also, any event that lasts more than two hours will involve more food. Guests will get hungry about two hours after they have first eaten.

Set the menu and figure portion sizes. See the Resources section for a chart of portion sizes used to plan food for a crowd. This chart will help you determine how much of a particular menu item to buy and make.

Determine the amount of appetizers needed. If appetizers are being served, the amount per person will depend on the time of day and whether or not a meal is also being served. Plan on 10 to 15 appetizers per guest for evening events with no dinner, and three to five appetizers when there is a dinner. For a midday meal with appetizers, reduce the number to one to three appetizers per guest.

Calculate breakfast amounts. For a morning event, provide a main dish of around 142gr. for each guest. Add two sides, including one bread item. If serving fruit, provide three to five cut pieces or 1 cup of a fruit salad. If the breakfast is more casual and involves only pastries, provide two per guest. Offer two types of beverages, such as coffee and juice.

Estimate lunch servings. For lunch, provide each guest with a main entrée that is around 142gr., such as chicken, and include two to three sides, like a bread or vegetable. One of these sides can also be a dessert. If sandwiches are being served, provide enough food for each guest to make two sandwiches. Offer a choice of three beverages.

Set dinner quantities. A dinner with appetizers should include three to five appetizers per person in addition to a main dish that is 142 to 198gr., such as steak or fish. If dinner is a buffet with multiple choices of meat, reduce the portions to 4 to 6 oz.. Accompany the main dish with small portions of bread, soup and salad as well as two to three side dishes like a vegetable or pasta. For salad, one handful per guest is sufficient. Desserts included with dinner are typically provided with one to three servings per person. One serving would be one slice of a cake or pie, or 113gr. of a mousse or ice cream. Offer a choice of three beverages.